El Museo Looks to Define ‘Latinx Art’ With a Major Survey

[Many thanks to Veerle Poupeye for bringing this item to our attention in Critical.Caribbean.Art.] Holland Cotter (The New York Times) reviews “Estamos Bien—La Trienal 20/21” writing that “the museum’s first triennial, imperfect but stimulating, has successfully landed.” “Estamos Bien—La Trienal 20/21” is on view through September 26 at El Museo del Barrio (1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street, New York). [Also see previous post Museo del Barrio to open major Latinx Art Exhibit.]

For much of the past year, New York City’s museum clock has been running on Covid time. When lockdown hit last March, exhibitions in progress went dark. Some later reopened for a last-gasp run. Others never saw the light again. Still others, originally scheduled to debut during the past several months, have had to carve out new slots. “Estamos Bien — La Trienal 20/21” at El Museo del Barrio, is one of the late-landing arrivals.

The show is El Museo’s first national survey of what it calls Latinx art, using the much-debated gender-neutral and (the museum argues) culturally embracing alternative to Latino or Latina, to describe artists of Latin American descent working primarily in the United States or the Caribbean. The museum’s original plan was to have the show coincide with, and reflect, two defining 2020 political events, the United States census and the presidential election. It missed both, but still looks plenty newsy. Immigration, racial justice and assertions of identity, ethnic and otherwise, are undying features of the national story. And the show is very much about them.

Its title, “Estamos Bien” — “We’re fine” — was inspired by a work in the exhibition, a 2017 painting by the Chicago-based Cándida Álvarez done in the wake of Puerto Rico’s devastation by Hurricane Maria. Tinged with irony, the words suggest both resilience and bitterness. And much of the work by the show’s 41 other artists is complicated in a similar way.

Organized by the El Museo curators Rodrigo Moura and Susanna V. Temkin, along with the artist Elia Alba, the Trienal begins in an introductory gallery installed with hard-copy versions of digital works commissioned by the museum. One — created by the San Diego duo Collective Magpie (Tae Hwang and M.R. Barnadas) and titled “Who Designs Your Race?” — is an interactive, census-style survey, but driven by personal feelings, not statistical facts. It’s geared to revealing the racial and ethnic biases in its participants.

A second piece, “Obituaries of the American Dream” by Lizania Cruz — born in the Dominican Republic and now based in Brooklyn — takes the form of written, short-statement answers by dozens of people to a question posed by Cruz: When and how did you lose your faith in the dream? The entire archive of responses, once readable only online, has been printed in a takeaway publication available in the gallery, and it’s a keeper.

Finally, a third introductory work is a single large photograph by the Philadelphia artist Ada Trillo of a 2020 Black Lives Matter “die-in” that took place in her home city after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The image of a mass of prone bodies, male and female, light-skinned and dark-skinned, stretching out as far as the eye can see — and surrounding a civic monument to George Washington, the nation’s slave-owning first president — catches the spirit of history-revising, justice-demanding energy that served as a background for the exhibition. [. . .]

Acknowledgment of family, near and far, is a recurrent element. It is evident in Groana Melendez’s photographic portraits of relatives networked between the Dominican Republic and the Bronx, and in portraits — each gold-framed — by Xime Izquierdo Ugaz, of an extended family of queer friends widely scattered across the Americas. [. . .]

And then there’s a video by the Puerto Rican puppet-and-performance collective that calls itself Poncilí Creación and consists primarily of the twin brothers Pablo and Efrain Del Hierro, who live and work in San Juan. They were quarantined there in 2020 when they made the video, and by the look of it they had the town almost to themselves, as they paraded through its locked-down streets, one brother beating out a catchy tattoo on a drum, the other wearing, strapped to his body, a mobile assemblage of fantastical soft-sculpture creatures. The two-man theater troupe goes where it pleases — deserted schools and government buildings are not off limits — and at one point attracts a fellow performer who tags along, talking revolution. He knows radicals when he meets them. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/arts/design/triennial-el-museo.html?  

[Cándida Álvarez’s “Estoy Bien” (2017), one of the works that inspired the triennial’s title. Credit: Cándida Álvarez and Monique Meloche Gallery.]

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